The first thing to know is that Pat Jennings is still working. He is 75 now but two days a week the young goalkeepers of the Tottenham academy benefit from a great man’s wisdom.
Jennings knows too well what inactivity feels like. ‘When I packed up football after the 1986 World Cup, I was not involved in the game,’ he says. ‘I would get up in the winter, pull the curtains back and if it was raining and I couldn’t get out on the golf course I went back to bed. After a few weeks you realise you’re just wasting.
‘So when Ossie Ardiles asked me back in 1993, I went in to Tottenham one day a week. Then two, then three. This is my 27th year on the staff. I was here 14 years as a player. Forty-one years. Who would have thought that?’
Pat Jennings, 75, is still working and is in his 27th year as a staff member at TottenhamInsurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
Jennings is a statesman of British football. Another, the late Jimmy Armfield, once said he had a voice ‘as deep as the Irish Sea’. That has not shallowed. Nor has his enthusiasm for work.
‘I didn’t enjoy the summer lockdown,’ he tells Sportsmail. ‘I am used to kicking and volleying balls. I was back in as soon as possible and immediately felt great. Then the next day I seized up! But I love it.’
Jennings has played and worked under 16 Tottenham managers. He also played for two at Arsenal. He is a rare breed, a player to have represented both north London clubs. Tomorrow at Stamford Bridge, Spurs play Chelsea as league leaders. Then, next weekend, it is Arsenal at home. It is an important eight days.
‘The club feels like it’s on the up,’ says Jennings. ‘It is where it should be. It’s a big club. It always felt like that when I played.
The former goalkeeper returned to Spurs to coach in 1993 after he was asked by Ossie Ardiles
Jennings has worked under 16 managers but Jose Mourinho knew who he was when he arrived
‘I introduced myself to Jose Mourinho and he said, “You don’t have to tell me who you are”. That was nice. But the young keepers here don’t necessarily know me. I tell them their parents might know. Or their grandparents!
‘I never even had a goalkeeping coach until Bob Wilson at Arsenal in my 30s. In my day you just looked after yourself. I learned by playing games and making mistakes. I did OK.’Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
Jennings played 590 times for Tottenham and 327 times for Arsenal. He won 119 Northern Ireland caps and played in two World Cups. He was the Football Writer’s Player of the Year in 1973 and won the PFA award three years later. He did OK.
Had football not called, Jennings might have stayed on the mountains of Newry for ever.
‘I left school at 15 and worked in a linen factory for £2.18 a week,’ he says. ‘I’d put the envelope on the table for my mother every Friday. I was second eldest. We had 11 in the house. The factory closed so my dad took me with him to work on the timber gang on the mountain. The sawyer would fell about 100 trees and it was my job to trim the branches with a hatchet. I loved it, apart from when the snow was coming over the top of my wellington boots. I thought I would do that job for ever. I wouldn’t have complained.’
Football was not played in County Down’s Catholic schools but Jennings was proficient at Gaelic football. That was to prove important. He had played in goal for an Under 19s street side when he was just 11 so when he filled in as an emergency goalkeeper for his brother’s team, a natural athleticism and huge leap were not long unnoticed.
A quick transition through local club football to the Irish national youth team led to a match at Wembley against the English in front of 35,000 in 1963. Ireland lost but Jennings did not, not in the long run. Before long Watford of the English Third Division called.
Jennings played for Tottenham from 1964-1977 before he was sold to rivals Arsenal
‘I got £23 a week but was 17 and would have played for nothing,’ he says. ‘The physical element didn’t bother me because of Gaelic football where you had to look after yourself. Crosses were no bother. I could just reach up and pull the ball down with one hand. People said my hands were big. They aren’t. I just knew how to use them.’
Transfers in Jennings’ day often happened quickly and without ceremony. Players were often last to know. So it was that the teenage Jennings was strong-armed into Tottenham by Bill Nicholson and Watford manager Bill McGarry in 1964. He was hurried out again just as unexpectedly by Keith Burkinshaw 13 years later.
‘Bill McGarry called me back from Ireland for early summer training but when I got there it wasn’t about that at all,’ Jennings says. ‘He said Bill Nicholson was waiting for me at Vicarage Road. I had only been at Watford a year. My head was spinning.
‘Bill Nick was offering me £35 a week. I was already earning that with bonuses at Watford. He didn’t believe me. So I went back to Ireland. He wrote to me a week later asking if I’d thought any more about it. Then he and Bill actually flew to Belfast. McGarry said if I dare come back to Watford I would be training morning, noon and night. They needed the money and wanted me out. So I signed.’
Jennings’ years at